Our tour of the Utah National Parks continued in May 2018 when we headed up to Arches National Park and Canyonlands. We found a free camping or boondocking site on freecampsites.net that was about 5 minutes outside of Arches National Park and about 15 minutes from Canyonlands National Park.
There is some amazing boondocking in Utah. We found a huge spot that had neighbors around, but nobody close. The perfect spacing. Far apart enough for privacy, but close enough to hear your screams if an ax murder shows up! There is ample camping near the park, whether it be boondocking or parks.
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The Town of Moab
The town of Moab is just past Arches- about another 5 minutes. It’s a pretty little town with lots of stores to walk around and check out. This time of year it was getting pretty crowded. There is a Maverick Gas Station on the south end of town that has free dumping and filling. This is pretty cool because nothing is cheap in Moab as you can imagine.
There is only one place to do laundry. They do have free wifi and some chairs and a table, it goes back quite deep so there are lots of washers and dryers, but they are not cheap! A load of laundry will set you back $6 at least. We were able to park right outside and had no issue getting a machine at all. We were there in May when the kids were still in school so I’m guessing that changes during the summer – quite substantially!
There are quite a few campgrounds in Moab- book WELL in advance (as in a year before) if you are going during the busy months.
Visiting Arches National Park – Things You Need To Know
We recommend that you stop at the visitor center near the entrance and pick up a Park Map. The Rangers there are happy to give you information about hikes and camping in the park. The Visitors Center is open 7:30 am to 5:00 pm during the busy time of the year to October. Many people say the best times to visit are spring and fall when schools are in session. It is a pretty large park and some trails are long so bring plenty of water.
Can you drive in the park?
Yes, most all of the park is drivable. There is no shuttle service at this park. Since there is only one entrance the drive is out and back unless you are in a 4 wheel drive vehicle and then there are some “back roads” in and out.
What does it cost?
The park fees are pretty typical at $30 per car for a 7-day pass. All of the standard National Parks passes are accepted. There is also Arches National Park camping available inside the park. The Devils Canyon Campground runs $25 a night and there are also a couple of group camping areas which range from $75 to $250 per night depending on the size of your group. If you have a child going into 4th grade this year, you can get a free park pass for the year,
The Park is open 24 hours a day, year round. It closes for one day throughout the year and that is Christmas Day. During the busy summer months, it is wise to get there very early or very late in the day to avoid long lines.
Our First Trip to Arches
This was our first time visiting The Arches and we didn’t really know what to expect. Our first visit to the park was on a Sunday and looking back that probably wasn’t the best idea, it gets pretty packed on the weekends during the summer. We decided to check out Double Arch and Windows first, as we weren’t ready for a long hike.
Parking is tough, this is the busy season so you have to expect that.
We were lucky enough to find a spot and off we went. As I said it was a busy day and the park was packed, this is one of the most popular arches because the kids can climb up and down. The view is spectacular from the top, we promised ourselves that we would come back at night time and enjoy the spectacular views even more.
After we climbed up and down Double Arch, we made our way over to the Windows. This is another nice easy hike, in fact, we walked a little further to enjoy more of the scenic views. The views all around are just spectacular, it was so fun for the kids to climb up and down on the rocks, they didn’t even realize how far they had walked.
Our Favorite Hikes in Arches National Park:
We did this one nice and early in the morning, we arrived at the parking lot around 7 am and it was already starting to fill up. We saw quite a few people on the hike, but it didn’t feel crowded. It’s the perfect hike to get you going and the panoramic views are mesmerizing. The hike up was a little more challenging than expected, it’s basically uphill all the way.
We took some breaks and kept going, very glad that we had decided to do this one so early in the morning. The view from the top is absolutely beautiful, plan to take an hour to enjoy it all. There were probably 50 people when we were there but I would imagine it gets much busier as the day goes on.
Our favorite part was getting under the arch to get a picture. There was a line but it didn’t take too long. After that, we took our time and wandered back slowly. All in all this hike took us maybe 3 hours and that was including the rest we enjoyed at the top, which was about 45 minutes.
On the way back down, we took a side trip to check out some petroglyphs that are not too far away. The kiddos really thought those were cool. “Just like in the Crood’s, Dad!”
Sand Dune Arch
This is another easy but fun hike for the kids to enjoy. The arch is hidden well within a row of “fins” which are large narrow rock outcroppings that are shaped like huge shark fins. We stopped along the way so they could climb around on the rocks, as a park ranger had recommended it for the kids. She was right and the kids had a blast running around and playing in the sand.
Devils Garden Trail
We arrived at the parking lot around 7 am to start this hike and boy were we glad we did. It was a beautiful morning and still nice and cool. The beginning of the hike is not strenuous at all, we stopped at Landscape Arch to read about what happened when a portion of the arch fell off in 1991. Landscape is the longest arch in the US, spanning nearly 300 feet and is only 11 feet thick at one point.
After you leave Landscape Arch things start to pick up and the real hiking begins. You have to clamor over these giant boulders. I have to admit I found this a little scary and we actually decided to turn around. I was nervous for myself and even more nervous for the kids. Thankfully I decided to give it another go and headed right up the middle. The kids climbed up like it was nothing, so much for me to worry about them.
Right after that, you walk on top of some fins which could be a little difficult for those of you scared of heights, but press on and it will be worth it. We stopped at the Partition Arch and Navajo Arch for a picture, the views here were my favorite. You could see out over the park, in the morning time it was just beautiful.
We stopped at all of the arches along the way, at the Double O Arch, we took a break to enjoy the views, thankfully there was no-one waiting to take some photos. The trail continued on to Dark Angel, a huge rock monolith but we could see it very well from Double O, so we stopped there.
All in all the Devil’s Garden hike took us 4 1/2 hours with us taking our time. You are exposed for most of the hike so I highly recommend that you take lots of water with you, we had our water hydration backpack as well as some water bottles with us. We did come across some people who had run out so we shared some of our water bottles with them. You DO NOT want to run out of water in this heat!
Before our backpack, we were carrying the bottles of water between us and it was super hard, especially o the uphill parts. We probably would have run out of water ourselves, but with the water hydration backpack, we always have some leftover now which is great.
This was one of our all-time favorite hikes because it was more challenging than previous ones we have done and you really felt like you had accomplished something at the end of it. Just to get a bit of scale, look for Grainne and the kiddos sitting in smaller “O” below the bigger “O” in the picture of Double O Arch below.
We turned back after the Double O Arch, as it had been a long enough hike already. We were glad that we had started so early in the morning, on our way back down the crowds were growing and it was already pretty hot out. People starting the hike were sweating already! We found a bench near the trailhead and enjoyed a well-deserved lunch and then took our time driving back through the park.
We cruised through the campground to see what it was like. It was much larger than we expected and all of the sites had amazing views. They have 51 sites, including 2 group sites and one accessibility site. We would love to go back and stay there for a few nights, I can imagine myself waking up and going to bed to some awesome views. You can check out the campground here.
Here are some quick tips for visiting The Arches
We highly recommend getting up and out early in the morning, we found getting there before 7 am was the best: after 8 am the lines are already long. If that is too early for you, later in the afternoon is best, maybe between 3 – 5 when the temperatures are starting to cool down.
Bring loads of water. It is just plain hot out there and there are NO water breaks along the trail.
Other Useful Blog Posts About National Parks in the US
Our friends Pete and Amy wrote an awesome and detailed article about The Fiery Furnace Hiking Trail
Here’s an awesome Guide we wrote about The Mighty 5 National Parks in Utah
We spent 1 month visiting and hiking Bryce Canyon National Park, we absolutely love it there.
Have you visited The Arches National Park? What was your favorite hike?